Footnotes from the British Underground

This blog began as venue for my stories as I traveled in Africa. 18 months later, I return to it as I travel to study as a Marshall Scholar in the United Kingdom. My hope is that this blog can be a conduit for you - my family, friends and secret/strange admirers - to track my movements, see a photo or two and get a glimpse of my days in the UK. Apologies once again to Dostoevsky for the blog's name...

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Location: Bradford, United Kingdom

After graduating from Notre Dame, I'm off to England for graduate study. I'll be studying for a M.A. in International Politics and Security Studies. When not studying, I'm continuing to coordinate Uganda-CAN's efforts to end the 20-year war in northern Uganda!

2.4.05

This is What a Police State Looks Like - A Watershed for the Pearl of Africa

The madness of the Ugandan political climate continues on. As I alluded to in my last posting, there was an opposition protest completely repressed by the police this week. I was not at the protest, so I cannot give first-hand accounts, but according to the newspapers, a few hundred people gathered at Constitutional Square Thursday late morning to protest against the repeal of the term limits that would allow President Youweri Museveni to stay in power (he has already been in power for 19 years). The government had made a dubious statement that Tuesday that there would be no more demonstrations, so there was fear that Thursday's demonstration would be violently repressed by the police. And it was.

The police used tear gas to clear the entire area, and riot police with large guns and masks patrolled the area for about four hours on big army trucks. They told people in that area (the center of town) to close their shops and return home. There were also gunshots, and luckily it is reported that no one was shot. They sprayed tear gas in powder form from large trucks, and the tear gas could be felt within a mile radius of the square.

Last week, there was such hope as police allowed anti-government groups to demonstrate and march peacefully for the first time in 20 years. That hope was shattered on Thursday as the government resorted to its old tactics of oppression and intimidation. With elections one year away, this is a bad sign for what lies ahead in the coming year. Hopefully, the international community and press will be able to monitor intensely and pressure for fairness and openness surrounding the elections.

As I wrote in an earlier posting, Uganda faces a watershed moment where it could either step toward democracy and economic growth or plunge into an abyss of internal conflict and violence. This week, I interviewed a number of MPs from opposition group about the coming elections and the political shift towards multipartyism. Many of them were hopeful and passionate, but they all spoke of doom if Museveni manipulates the process and wins a third term with violent coercion.

Yesterday, one woman parliamentarian, when I asked her about what happens if Museveni gets his wish and manipulates the process, did not blink an eye and told me, "bloodshed." She continued, "Personally I don't believe in using violence for politics, but I will not attempt to persuade anyone who thinks differently. We (the opposition) have waited and struggled peacefully and democratically for 20 years, but at some point, the waiting must stop. If this president defies the very constitution he made, the time for democratic change will have run out." This seems to be the dominant perception.

It is definitely an interesting time to be in Uganda, and an important time to be following the news about Uganda. The international community, which contributes 48-52% of the revenue of the national budget holds a great deal of power that it can use to influence the direction of the east African nation as it approaches the watershed. Let's hope and act that it will use that power positively for the good of the people of Uganda.

1 Comments:

Blogger P Scott Cummins said...

Let not your voice be discouraged, and be smart that you are not silenced. Enourage others to blog. We need dozens and hundreds of Uganda bloggers NOW! Consider using pseudonyms. Frequent many different cyber cafes. And be sure to let me know of other Ugandan bloggers as brave as you! For the record, I don't give a rip about your politics: this is about democracy. Which, by definition, requires diversity of opinion. P. Scott Cummins www.pscottcummins.com/blog

6:49 AM GMT+1  

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